Madam Speaker, today, we are talking about a motion to see Bill C-2 move swiftly through the House. On behalf of the New Democrats, we recognize the urgent need for many people, in the face of the pandemic, to receive help. It is true that some of those people will receive some help through Bill C-2. That is why the New Democrats have not tried to filibuster or obstruct the passage of the bill, but we have not tried to hasten it. We have laid out very clearly a path through the NDP to try to expedite the passage of the bill.
We talked about the problem of benefit clawbacks, not just with respect to the guaranteed income supplement but the Canada child benefit and Canada worker benefit. We talked about the need for a CERB low-income repayment amnesty. We talked about some of the people who were seriously affected by the government pursuing them for debts they had incurred, sometimes without much choice, such as foster kids in Manitoba. They were told by the provincial government they had to apply for CERB or they would not be eligible to apply for social assistance in the province of Manitoba.
Other people took the government at its word when it said to apply if they really needed help in the struggle of the pandemic, not only because of employment loss but also because of sudden increased costs, such as hiring a laundry service because family members or their support network could not go into their place of residence to assist with those things or having groceries delivered. There were a number of other costs.
When we raised the problems with the CERB and folks not being able to access any financial assistance because they had not necessarily lost employment, members on the Liberal benches exhorted people to apply for the CERB, highlighting that it was a no-fail application process. Unanimous consent motions were passed in this place, which meant not one member in the House objected to them, saying that if people really needed help and applied in good faith, they should not be punished or persecuted. That was why we felt it was very important to have a CERB low-income repayment amnesty.
We also talked about the fact that if the government was willing to clawback benefits from the most vulnerable in Canadian society because they were not entitled to them, we wanted to see it take action on clawing back benefits from the largest corporations, which were obviously in a good financial position because they were able to pay dividends to their shareholders. We know that while many businesses have struggled, some businesses have done exceptionally well, much better financially than in the years preceding the pandemic. Therefore, we have been calling for some action on that.
The government chose not to negotiate with us on the passage of this bill. That is its choice. This is not a case of sour grapes. It chose to negotiate with the Bloc. We are here to stand up for the people who were left out with respect to Bill C-2. The government had a choice. It could have worked with the NDP, in the name of the people for whom we are here to fight. It could have worked with the Bloc on the concerns its members chose to raise, or it could have worked with both of us. These were not mutually exclusive options. The government chose not to work with us or negotiate with us, so it is hard for us to expedite the passage of a bill that leaves too many people out, and the government has not worked with us to try to address those legitimate concerns.
I think there was a perception by the government in the last Parliament that somehow, because we are a responsible party and we knew Canadians did not want an election during the pandemic, it could take our support on things for granted. That was never true; it was not something to be taken for granted. It was true that we wanted to avoid an election. The leader of the Conservative Party did not think we should have an election during a pandemic and was not prepared to trigger one. The Bloc Québécois members did not want an election during a pandemic, that it would be irresponsible and they would not trigger one. The New Democrats voted accordingly and the Prime Minister broke faith with all of us in the House who had said we should not have an election.
The Prime Minister got past June 2021 without having this place vote non-confidence in him. We wanted to get through the summer without having an election, so Parliament could come back in a timely way in September and deal with some of the very real issues with which Bill C-2 purports to deal. It does deal with some of them but not enough.
Instead of honouring the real effort that parties in this place made, despite many of the shortcomings of the government, to preserve that Parliament, in August, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to call an election anyway, an election that nobody wanted, an election for which the House of Commons had not called. He did it under a pretense that was not a product of the summer months.
If the Prime Minister thought there were big decisions his government needed to make, that was not news at the beginning of August. He would have known that by June and he could have been honest about it in this place. Instead, he denied that he wanted an election. People on all sides of the House were glad to hear it. We behaved accordingly and he broke faith with this place and with Canadians by calling that unnecessary and unwanted election.
I said “pretense” earlier. Why do I call it a pretense for an election? Because the Prime Minister said big questions had to be decided and the government may need to implement some major new initiatives. He took his sweet time and we came back late after the election. Then when we got back here, we had a Speech from the Throne that had nothing new to offer in terms of a change in pattern or major new policy direction by the government in the face of the pandemic.
Bill C-2 is not a big, bold move except to the extent of abandoning hundreds of thousands of Canadians in the midst of a continuing pandemic and difficult economic times. However, he did not ask for a mandate for that. In the election, he said he would have the backs of Canadians. He never did go to Canadians in the election and he never was honest with them about the real turn he was going to take.
It turns out that the reason for the election was a pretense. While the Prime Minister tried to contrast himself with the Conservatives on the pandemic recovery during the election, on October 21, just a month after the election, he would take their advice and cancel the Canada recovery benefit with just two days' notice for people who were on the program, almost 900,000 of them.
There was nothing really new in the Speech from the Throne. The big job, agreeing with the Conservatives on how to handle the pandemic recovery, had already happened in October before the Prime Minister even had the decency to reconvene this place. The Speech from the Throne was not where he was going to make good on his commitment to Canadians to announce the new direction for which he needed a new mandate.
Maybe it would come in the fall economic statement, which happened this week. I am sorry to report that I do not see anything particularly new, bold or exciting. In fact, we did not even see a commitment to urgently implement some of the campaign promises the Liberals made.
What we did see the day before was the Prime Minister, who had an election to get a mandate to distinguish himself from the Conservatives, taking their advice to renew the mandate of the Bank of Canada, without any larger discussion as is happening in some other countries.
We know the United States has a dual mandate, employment and inflation. We know that New Zealand recently introduced its concern for the cost of housing in the mandate of its central bank. We know that the U.K. has recently asked its central bank to consider the impact of monetary policy on the battle against climate change.
Our allies, who are themselves competent financial managers, are talking about different ways to rebuild their economies coming out of the pandemic. However, the Liberals decided to take the advice of the official opposition after causing an election, because they said there was a huge difference about how they were going to handle things.
We stand in this place with a Prime Minister who broke faith on not having an election during a pandemic. We stand here with a Prime Minister who went to Canadians, saying he needed a mandate for something very different between he and his Conservative opposition. Then he proceeded to largely take their advice on the basic core elements of the pandemic recovery, something that is represented in this bill.
We stand before a government that has decided not to work closely with the NDP to address some of those things. However, we know the bill will pass quickly and the people who can get help through this little bill will get it, because the government chose to work with somebody else, as its right, However, if the government wants our support on things like this, then its members need to sit down and talk to us. They need to talk to us about the people who we are here to represent and fight for, and that means seniors.
We have talked a lot about the guaranteed income supplement. The government made an announcement on Tuesday. We had been asking for a long time what it planned to do. The Liberals have told us, along with everybody else, in the fall economic statement, and there are a lot of questions about the adequacy of that solution. We would have been very happy on this side of the House to provide some feedback in advance of the announcement to ensure it would work for more people.
We will not get everything we want until we are in government, but I will give an example: the payment for people living with disabilities. This is a one-time payment, but it should be an increase in a regular benefit, something the Liberals went on to promise, but we have not heard anything about how they plan to deliver that. The Liberals initially announced that it would apply to people who received the disability tax credit. We had an opportunity to negotiate that, because we knew that was not good enough.
Not all people living with disabilities receive the disability tax credit. There are a bunch of reasons for that. First is that it is expensive and difficult to get certified for the disability tax credit. A lot of people living with disabilities live in poverty. They do not have the $20 to $40 for the administrative fees at the doctor's office to get a successful application for the disability tax credit.
Beyond that, a lot of them do not have an income that would allow them to benefit from a tax credit. They need to have enough income to pay taxes to benefit from a tax credit. Unfortunately too many people living with disabilities do not have enough income. Therefore, it was a bad way to deliver help to the people who needed it most.
The second problem was the one-time payment disproportionately would go to the people living with disabilities who had the highest incomes. That did not make sense from a policy point of view, because the money would not get where it was really needed and it would not get there quickly. Then there were long delays in that payment. My point is that we were able to expand the number of people who received that payment and help get it to more of the people who really needed it.
Now we have a situation where the government has announced another one-time payment to fix the GIS problem. It sounds like there is going to be another long delay in getting that help to people, people who are already homeless and do not have months to wait. We could have talked about a solution to that and have more assurances it would work well and work quickly. That did not happen
I am glad the government responded to public pressure. I am proud of the role the NDP has played in putting that pressure on the government. While I am also glad the government felt the need to respond, responding to public pressure and pressure of a political party in the House are not the same as negotiating a solution in the context of a bill.
We are not just here for seniors; we are here for workers. Many workers are being let down right now by the employment insurance system. The Liberals have said they will fix it, but we do not know when. There has been no clear signalling about when a fix for EI is going to come. Our constituency offices are hearing from people who are applying to EI and it is not there for them. The system cannot keep up with what is going on in the economy. That is why we needed exceptional pandemic benefits, the benefits the government just cancelled without having done the work of reforming employment insurance.
I was just talking to my colleague from Edmonton Strathcona about constituents who she was hearing from in her home province of Alberta. They cannot get financial assistance through employment insurance, despite having worked hard and paid their dues to the employment insurance system. They have been unable to access it when they need it.
We are here for people living with disabilities who are getting short shrift from the government. The Liberals say a lot of words, but they do not have a lot of action that will really help people in a timely way.
We have been here to advocate for students. The Canada emergency student benefit was not something the government was even contemplating, except for the pressure and the negotiation of the NDP.
Folks in this place might remember that the Canada emergency student benefit paid less than the CERB. Our position was to make students eligible for the CERB like everybody else. Students needed to pay their tuition in the fall of 2020, and they were not going to be able to get jobs in the summer. The government thought that students were naturally lazy: it could not just have them sitting around at home. It was not going to pay them to sit around and do nothing, so the government was going to pay them less than the CERB, but would create a phenomenal jobs program that would hire them in the summer.
Does anyone remember, in the lead-up to the summer of 2020, the jobs program that the Liberals were contemplating? That program came to be known as the WE Charity scandal. The money never got out the door, which was a good thing in hindsight, because we had no idea how they were contemplating rolling out that program. The point is that the program for students never happened. The jobs never came and they continued to have a reduced benefit on the false pretense that there were going to be jobs coming to them that would help them make up the difference and pay their tuition in the fall. That never happened.
There have been moments of co-operation in this Parliament, and we are willing to co-operate in expediting legislation when it reflects the priorities of the people we are here to represent. For folks in the LGBTQ2S community, we worked with the government to expedite passage of the bill banning conversion therapy. This is something that Sheri Benson, who was elected from Saskatoon alongside me in 2015, first brought to the House. My colleague for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke has done a lot of excellent work in advancing it. Where there was something for the people that we are here to represent, and the government was doing it in a good way without leaving out a whole bunch of other people, we were happy to co-operate, just as we have been happy to co-operate on a bill that would finally bring 10 paid sick days to workers across the country.
Again, it is not a perfect bill. We think that there should be 10 paid sick days for workers across the country, but the bill says that a person would collect one sick day a month, so a person would have to wait 10 months to get those paid sick days. We are in a pandemic. The idea behind giving sick days was that if people were not feeling well, they would not have to go to work. The idea was not to have them work sick for 10 months while they accumulated the time they needed to protect themselves and everybody in their workplace from COVID-19. The idea was to give them that time so they could do the right thing and protect everybody in their workplaces and in their communities.
Nevertheless, we have been working with the government to quickly pass that legislation, because we recognize that, while it is not how we would do it, it is the best on offer and we have been fighting hard to make it better. We presented amendments in committee that would have found a compromise position on this long, 10-month wait. It would have made sure that workers had at least four days up front so that they could do the right thing. However, it was voted down by the Liberals, so we know that this is as good as we are going to get for now and we recognize that it has to be in place quickly. At least there was some discussion and negotiation around that.
This is all to say that New Democrats are here to fight for the people we represent. We are here to fight for seniors. We are here to fight for students. We are here to be a voice in this place for people living with disabilities across the country. We have been fighting for women, such as the women in the travel industry who were left out of Bill C-2. We are here for independent travel agents who work for themselves and have been doing work for their clients: First, at the beginning of the pandemic, they helped them to figure out cancelled trips, vouchers and rebates, and now they are doing bookings as people, in a sense of optimism, are starting to book travel. However, they are only going to get paid when people take those trips, and of course omicron is calling that into question. We are here to speak for them.
When the government is willing to work with us to make sure that those people are not left behind in the bills that it presents, we will be there to try and make sure that the legislation advances quickly. When the government chooses other partners, that is its business, but it is leaving a lot of people behind in Bill C-2. I wish there was more time to fix it and leave fewer people behind, which is why we are not voting to expedite the bill, knowing full well that it will be expedited according to the program that the government has chosen by choosing its partners. We invite government members to work with us in the future to create better legislation and leave fewer people behind, but it just does not seem to be the approach that they are taking so far in this new Parliament.